Great Expectations There is no single definition in the Victorian society as to what constitutes a “gentleman. ” Even the Victorians themselves were unsure exactly what made a gentleman. Some believed it was a person’s central characteristics and others were not sure how long it would take to become one. Some people became gentleman from right of birth, but that alone was not enough. Others were considered gentleman because of their occupation, for example clergymen, army officers, and members of parliament were considered gentlemen, yet other reputable professions such as engineers were not (Cody).
Some Victorians believed it could be obtained through chivalry, some others believe that a gentleman is not entitled to live off of the work of others, but still many do. By the later part of the century, the Victorians agreed that a gentleman must receive a traditional, liberal education that was based on Latin and attend an elite public school and with that alone he would be a gentleman no matter what his social class was (Cody). Although Victorian society talks about the monetary aspect of being a gentleman, they overlook the moral aspect.
The gentry class of women of the Victorian Era usually inherited their land, their title, and their wealth. It seems like these women did very little, but they did manage their home and household. They attended social parties and balls while enjoying dancing. The unmarried women would spend a lot of time with other unmarried women, but once they were married they became head of the household and then had little time to spend with their friends (Women of Victorian England). In the novel Great Expectations, Biddy is a classmate of Pip. She is a simple, country-girl who eventually becomes very close to him.
Biddy does not fit into the traditional Victorian definition of a “gentlewoman”. In Great Expectations, Pip is a poor country-boy who values what a gentleman stands for and spends his life trying to achieve gentleman status after he had spent some time at Miss Havisham’s house. Pip becomes friends with a simple country-girl who is his classmate named Biddy. Even though Biddy does not fit the Victorian elements of a gentlewoman because she did not attend an elite school, she was not born of money, and did not hold a prestigious occupation; she was fulfilled in her life and tried to live a good life by oing what was right, continually learning, showing compassion, and love towards others. When Pip is training to be a blacksmith, Biddy does not care about his rank in society and loves him anyway but Pip has greater expectations and feels Biddy is not good enough. In Chapter 19, when Pip is leaving to pursue his desire of becoming a gentleman, he brings Biddy into the garden, and asks her “That you will not omit any opportunity of helping Joe on, a little (Dickens 187). ” Pip wants Biddy to educate Joe and help him become more of a gentleman.
Biddy defends Joe and tells Pip “Have you never considered that he may be proud (Dickens 188)? ” Here Biddy shows her strong character and sense of what is right and that social status does not create a gentlemen. When Pip accuses Biddy of being jealous he says, “You are dissatisfied on account of my rise in fortune, and you can’t help showing it (Dickens 188). ” Pip feels Biddy is jealous of him because he is going to move up in society and she is not. Biddy tells Pip that no matter what he thinks about her it will make no difference in the way she thinks of him.
By Biddy not becoming enraged at Pip she shows she has more integrity than him. His new fortune and desire has blinded him to his own ignorance. Biddy says “Yet a gentleman should not be unjust neither (Dickens 189). ” Here Biddy is showing the depth of her character and that she is more a gentlewoman than Pip for she is not judging people. It seems that Pip has allowed his fortune to alter his opinion of Joe, yet Biddy still holds true to her beliefs regardless of what he says. When Pip’s sister dies he returns home and talks with Biddy.
Pip says he will visit Joe often, but Biddy doesn’t believe him and Pip gets his feelings hurt. When Pip is leaving he tells Biddy he was hurt and she replies “no, don’t be hurt, let only me be hurt, if I have been ungenerous (Dickens 360). ” This shows that Biddy puts others before herself. In Chapter 10, when Pip realized that it would take him too long to become uncommon in the school he was in, he decides to take extra lessons from his friend Biddy. Education is important to Biddy and she is constantly trying to learn and help others. When Mrs. Joe is injured, Biddy moves into her house to nurse her.
Pip is amazed that Biddy is able to overcome the obstacles in her life and go on to become Pip’s first teacher. “I recalled the hopeless circumstances by which she had been surrounded in the miserable shop and the miserable little noisy evening school, with that miserable old bundle of incompetence always to be dragged and shouldered (Dickens 159). ” Originally, Pip valued Biddy’s opinion, intellect, and independence when they were classmates. By Chapter 17, Pip notices a change in Biddy. He realizes she carries herself with certainty in herself; she is also pleasant to look at and spend time with.
When Pip reveals he wants to become a gentleman to impress Estella; Biddy says that it is not worth it. Pip says “I might even have grown up to keep company with you. I should have been good enough for you; shouldn’t I, Biddy (Dickens 161)? ” Biddy says “Yes; I am not over particular (Dickens 161). ” I believe that Pip deeply cares for Biddy, but feels that Biddy is inferior to him. Pip always has the great expectations of achieving gentlemen status and having an uncommon life. I feel Pip clearly wants someone better than Biddy, which he thinks is Estella.
When Pip said “If I could only get myself to fall in love with you (Dickens 165),” Biddy answers, “But you never will, you see (Dickens 165). ” His desire to be a gentleman and have Estella who he believes is his “ideal” woman is greater than what he feels for Biddy, even though he is comfortable with her. It seems that Biddy has everything that Pip could want in a woman if he could only be happy with his life. In contrast to Biddy, Estella is by definition a traditional gentlewoman, but Biddy shows more love, compassion, and depth of character than Estella. To me Biddy is more of a lady than Estella could ever be.
Pip is also beginning to realize this as well. When Pip is recovering from his illness, Joe goes and helps Pip recover and Joe tells him that Biddy said “Go to him, without a minute’s loss of time (Dickens 587). ” This shows how much Biddy cares for Pip even though Pip has not treated her right. Joe is able to write a note because Biddy has taught Joe how to write and Pip stated that he could, “cry again with pleasure to see the pride with which he set about his letter (Dickens 587). ” Pip is genuinely happy for Joe and feels elated that he can read and write.
Pip at one point says, “Nor you sweet tempered Biddy (Dickens 530). ” Pip is referring to her never complaining of his great expectations. Pip realizes once again how ungrateful he is to the people who had brought him up and loved him the most. In Chapter 58, Pip returns to ask Biddy to marry him. At this point Pip realizes that Biddy could make him happy. Instead, Pip finds that Biddy has married Joe. Rather than being disappointed for himself, he is genuinely happy for them. Pip says “But dear Biddy, how smart you are! And Joe How smart you are (Dickens 605)! Pip acknowledges his past mistakes in judging both Biddy and Joe too harshly, and realizes how intelligent they are. Throughout all of Pip’s wanting to be a gentleman, he has forgotten how truly important friends and family are. Pip asks both Biddy and Joe for their forgiveness. Pip continues to correspond with Biddy and Joe which is a big change from earlier in his life when he did not want to be associated with them. Eleven years later, Pip returns home and finds that Joe and Biddy have had two children. Biddy asks Pip, “You are sure you don’t fret for her (Dickens 610)? ” Biddy is concerned if Pip has gotten over Estella.
To Pip, Biddy is now a true lady. Even though he does not directly state it, this is clearly obvious based on the fact that he wanted to marry her. Pip has learned that social class is not a requirement for happiness. Biddy has proven that even without money or a high standing in society, a person can become a gentleman through their character alone and how they choose to live their life. ? Works Cited Cody, David. “The Gentleman. ” The Victorian Web. 10 June 2009. . Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. Evanston: McDougal Littell Inc. , 1998. “Women of Victorian England. ” Crayzray. tripod. com. 10 June 2009. .